Frontiers in Microbiology 12 , 741523 ( 2021)
Climate change dramatically impacts Arctic and subarctic regions, inducing shifts in wetland nutrient regimes as a consequence of thawing permafrost. Altered hydrological regimes may drive changes in the dynamics of microbial mercury (Hg) methylation and bioavailability. Important knowledge gaps remain on the contribution of specific microbial groups to methylmercury (MeHg) production in wetlands of various trophic status. Here, we measured aqueous chemistry, potential methylation rates (k meth ), volatile fatty acid (VFA) dynamics in peat-soil incubations, and genetic potential for Hg methylation across a groundwater-driven nutrient gradient in an interior Alaskan fen. We tested the hypotheses that (1) nutrient inputs will result in increased methylation potentials, and (2) syntrophic interactions contribute to methylation in subarctic wetlands. We observed that concentrations of nutrients, total Hg, and MeHg, abundance of hgcA genes, and rates of methylation in peat incubations (k meth ) were highest near the groundwater input and declined downgradient. hgcA sequences near the input were closely related to those from sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB), methanogens, and syntrophs. Hg methylation in peat incubations collected near the input source (FPF2) were impacted by the addition of sulfate and some metabolic inhibitors while those down-gradient (FPF5) were not. Sulfate amendment to FPF2 incubations had higher k meth relative to unamended controls despite no effect on k meth from addition of the sulfate reduction inhibitor molybdate. The addition of the methanogenic inhibitor BES (25 mM) led to the accumulation of VFAs, but unlike molybdate, it did not affect Hg methylation rates. Rather, the concurrent additions of BES and molybdate significantly decreased k meth , suggesting a role for interactions between SRB and methanogens in Hg methylation. The reduction in k meth with combined addition of BES and molybdate, and accumulation of VFA in peat incubations containing BES, and a high abundance of syntroph-related hgcA sequences in peat metagenomes provide evidence for MeHg production by microorganisms growing in syntrophy. Collectively the results suggest that wetland nutrient regimes influence the activity of Hg methylating microorganisms and, consequently, Hg methylation rates. Our results provide key information about microbial Hg methylation and methylating communities under nutrient conditions that are expected to become more common as permafrost soils thaw.